When it comes to vintage snapback hats, there’s one brand that will always spring to mind first – Sports Specialties. Established in Chicago in 1928 by Robert Warsaw, Sports Specialties lasted more than six decades, establishing itself as one of the most recognised and well-loved sportswear brands in American History.
What most people don’t realise is that Sports Specialties weren’t simply pioneers within an industry, they actually created the industry. Before Sports Specialties were around, no one had even heard of licensing contracts with pro sports teams.
Warsaw’s family-run business started small. While they did establish the first ever licensing agreement with a pro sports team in the USA (with the Chicago Cubs) they started out making just a few novelty goods like ash trays and bobble head figures.
But Sports Specialties quickly learned the value of such agreements and expanded its product range swiftly. By the 1960s, the company had grown considerably and become not only the first official licensee of the NFL but also official locker-room suppliers for huge sporting events like the NBA finals, The Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four.
By the 1980s, licensed sportswear was beginning to take a hold on the American market in a big way. Until then, there had never been a large market or considerable interest invested in licensed gear. But thanks to a combination of increased marketing, the rise of sporting superstars like Michael Jordan, an increase in demand from overseas, and iconic pop culture advocates like N.W.A; the licensed sportswear market exploded into the 1990s. By ‘92, the sports headwear industry alone was worth $1.5 billion, and Sports Specialties owned a good portion of that.
Sports Specialties signature series was the Pro Line “Script” model. The series was also referred to as the “coach cap” or the “game day” hat because these were the models that were always given to the professionals, whether they were on the touchlines or in the press room on draft day.
The first style of script hat was the hat with the single line scripture. See the Redskins hat below.
This design dates back to the early 80s and is probably the most sought after style of vintage snapback out there. Find an LA Raiders single line script in new condition, and you’ve got yourself a an easy $300. The design was clean and simple, typically on a 100% wool, single color hat. The hats were rarely embellished with more than the associated pro league logo on the side.
The mark II model of the Sports Specialties Script series became known as the double line script hat. The snapback has the same style scripture, only the font was neatly outlined by a second thread. These hats were often two tone, made from either cotton twill or wool blend, and the second stitching color often matched the color of the brim.
Not every team fitted the formula for the series perfectly. Some teams’ logos were so inexorably associated with the team and its merchandise, that Sports Specialties felt obliged to accommodate those teams a little differently. These select teams, it was deemed, couldn't simply be represented using the same uniform scripture as every other hat in the series. For example, the mark II Orlando Magic script snapback, includes the NBA team's trademark magic “star” in the logo, while the NY Giants script is simply the team’s regular, trademarked logo stitched onto the sports specialties hat.
A few other interesting pieces include the “work out” cap (see a couple pictures up)– another script variation, given its name from its unique heather texture aimed to replicate the speckled gray of a gym shirt or tank. Leather script hats also arrived with the double line script series, but these hats feature an adjustable buckle on the back rather than a snap. A few, very limited run script hats like one with a suede bill, are also around in very tiny numbers.
The fact that the script snapback hat became so wildly popular is quite surprising when you consider that most of the hats in the series don’t include the team’s actual logo. I mean, if you’re going to a store to buy a product to show your support to your team, you’d generally want that piece of merchandise to have your team’s logo on, and not just the name of your spelled out in a generic type face. It just goes to show the influence that the pros have on marketing – get the superstars wearing the product and the fans will follow suit. But that’s not to say the design isn’t one of the very best – because, obviously it is...
That’s why the Sports Specialties script hat is the most knocked-off style of any snapback hat. Back in the 90s, there were a bunch of different companies – some licensed, some totally bootleg – that made hats based on the signature Sports Specialties Series. Take this early 90s AMCap brand snapback for example – a total copy of the single line script.
Contemporary throwback style snapback hats by New Era and Mitchell and Ness also favor the script style design. You can find single and double line script replicas in models by both companies. These snapback hats are a lot less faithful to the original however, as the designs are imposed upon a very modern crown shape with a circular shaped bill. I won't even dignify these hats with a picture...